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Paper presented at the First International Symposium on Endangered Species Used in Traditional East 
Asian Medicine: Substitutes for Tiger Bone and Musk. Hong Kong, 7-8 December 1 997 

Musk deer: little understood, even its scent 

Michael J.B. Green' and Bijaya Kattel 2 


The musk deer, genus Moschus, is distributed sporadically throughout the 
forested, mountainous parts of Asia, from just north of the Arctic circle south 
as far as the Hindu Kusk-Himalayan region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and 
India. Its taxonomy is unresolved, there being at least four and possibly as 
many as six species recognised. 

The animal is renowned for its musk, a secretion of the male preputial gland 
which has been used in traditional medicines and in perfumery from as far 
back as 3,500 BC. Today musk is among the most valuable animal products 
in the world, worth up to US $ 45,000 or 3-4 times its weight in gold. 

Widespread and intense illicit hunting of the musk deer to meet the 
international demand for musk, combined with habitat destruction, have lead 
to a drastic decline in musk deer populations. This century populations have 
disappeared from former parts of their distribution and elsewhere they have 
become extremely fragmented. That the musk deer has not been wiped out 
from much more of its geographic distribution can be attributed, in part, to its 
behaviour: it is essentially solitary and often nocturnal, extremely furtive, 
and females are likely to be able to reproduce in their first year. 

However, much of the musk deer's behaviour, physiology and ecology 
remain poorly understood, exemplified by the difficulties experienced in 
maintaining breeding populations in captivity. Ironically, perhaps least 
understood is the precise role of musk in the animal's behaviour and ecology. 

The conservation of the musk deer is discussed, alongside existing 
constraints in promoting the sustainable production of musk. Future options 
are considered. 

World Conservation Monitoring Centre. 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, UK 
Colorado State University. Fort Collins. Colorado, USA 



The musk deer is best known for its musk, a secretion of the male preputial gland that 
has been used in traditional oriental medicines and perfumes for many hundreds of 
years. Such has been the commercial demand for musk, among the most valuable of 
natural products in the world, that the musk deer has disappeared from many parts of 
its former distribution. 

Despite its renown, little is understood about this small, primitive, deer-like animal. 
Its evolutionary history remains uncertain, its taxonomy is confused, and its behaviour 
and ecology are only beginning to be unfathomed. The purpose of this paper is to 
provide an account of what is known about the musk deer as a basis for considering 
its future conservation. 


2.1 Evolution 

The musk deer, Moschus, has often been classified as a member of the deer family or 
Cervidae (e.g. Flower, 1975; Simpson, 1945). Although Moschus superficially 
resembles living deer, a number of other authors have suggested that the genus should 
be placed in its own family, the Moschidae (e.g. Gray, 1821; Brooke, 1878; Flerov, 
1952; Groves and Grubb, 1987; Scott and Janis, 1987). The inclusion of Moschus and 
similar fossil types in a separate family is based on them all retaining primitive 
ruminant characteristics such as a small to medium body size, large upper canines 
(tusks) in the males and the absence of antlers, horns or other cranial appendages. 
Unlike the chevrotains (mouse deer) in the family Tragulidae, however, the tusks are 
more specialised, the metacarpals are fused and the stomach is four-chambered (Scott 
and Janis, 1987). 

The relationship of the moschids to other pecorans (ruminants with four-chambered 
stomachs) is less certain. Scott and Janis (1987) place the Moschidae at the base of the 
superfamily Cervoidae, as the sister group to the Antilocapridae (goat antelopes) and 
Cervidae (Figure 1 .). However, there remains uncertainty about relating the Cervidae 
more closely to the Antilocapridae than to the Moschidae, based on a number of 
skeletal features. 

Cervoids Bovoids 

1 , , I 

Tragulids Moschids Antilocaprids Cervids Giraffids Bovids 

Figure 1 Phylogenetic relationship between living families of ruminants (after Scott 
and Janis, 1987). 

2.2 Taxonomy 

Taxonomy of the genus Moschus is unresolved, particularly at subspecies level, but 
there are now considered to be at least four and possibly as many as six species 
(Groves and Grubb, 1987). For purposes of this paper, the following four species are 

forest musk (M berezovskii) in China, Vietnam 

Himalayan musk deer (M chrysogaster) in Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal, 


. black musk deer (M. fuscus) in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal 
[Note: This is considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M 
• Siberian or taiga musk deer (M moschiferus) in China, Korea, Mongolia, 
former USSR. 
Until such time as adequate samples of specimens are examined morphologically, and 
perhaps genetically, from representative parts of the musk deer's distribution, the 
taxonomy will remain uncertain (see also Gao, 1985) 


3.1 Past and present distribution 

In general, the musk deer is distributed sporadically throughout the forested, 
mountainous parts of Asia, from just north of the Arctic circle south to the northern 
edge of Mongolia and to Korea. Further south, but avoiding the Gobi Desert, it occurs 
in China, northern Vietnam, Myanmar and the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region of 
Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Flerov, 1930, 1952; Dao, 1977). During the course 
of this century, this distribution has become fragmented and in some parts contracted. 

The forest musk deer, M. berezovskii, occurs in the following provinces of southern 
China: southern Shaanxi, southern Anhui, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, 
Yunnan, Guinzhou, Sichuan, southern Gansu, south-east Qinghai and southern 
Ningxia. Its distribution extends into northern Myanmar and northern Vietnam. Five 
subspecies are recognised by Wang et ah (1993). 

The distribution of the alpine musk deer, M. chrysogaster [= sifanicus], encompasses 
Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, and central China (Grubb, 1982). 
What is commonly referred to as the Himalayan musk deer is considered to be a 
subspecies of M. chrysogaster whose distribution extends north of the Himalayan 
divide into Tibet and south-east Qinghai. The overall distribution of the Himalayan 
musk deer south of the Himalayan divide has changed little during the 20th century 
but widespread hunting and extensive habitat destruction has reduced the population 
to isolated fragments in many regions. This population was estimated at 30,000 
animals, based on the extent of suitable habitat and the impact of hunting (Green, 

The black musk deer, M. fuscus, occurs in north-western Yunnan (above 3,200m), 
where its distribution partly overlaps with that of M. berezovskii (Li, 1981), and the 
south-eastern corner of Tibet, China (Li, 1981; Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990). It also occurs 
in Myanmar and Assam, India. An undescribed subspecies is found in the Everest 
region of Nepal, India (Sikkim) and Bhutan. 

The Siberian musk deer, M. moschiferus, is found in the former USSR (Siberia and 
Sakhalin Island), northern Mongolia, China (northern Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang 
and Jilin) and Korea. It has disappeared from Sinkiang, Shanxi, Hebei and Shaanxi 
(Bannikov etal, 1980; Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990). 

Further details about the species' known distributions within each country are 
summarised in Annex 1 . 

3.2 Reasons for decline 

Musk deer populations have declined dramatically during this century as a direct 
result of widespread illicit hunting of the animal for its musk. Given that a single 
musk gland or pod, weighing on average 25g, will provide a pastoralist family with 6- 
12 month's cash income (Jackson, 1979; Harris, 1991), hunting is very intense and 
populations within a given valley may be wiped out within a few years. Hunting, 
traditionally with snares but increasingly with guns, is largely indiscriminate of the 
age and sex of animals, such that four or five musk deer may be killed for every pod- 
bearing male secured (Jackson, 1979; Green, 1986). 

Habitat destruction, due to increasing human and livestock populations in many 
Himalayan and other mountainous regions, is also a serious threat. This applies 
particularly to the shrub layer of vegetation which provides musk deer with food and 
camouflage from predators, including man. Expanding pastoralism may also affect 
musk deer indirectly through predation and harassment by domestic dogs, used to 
protect livestock (Green, 1986; Harris, 1991). 

3.3 Musk trade 

Musk is used in perfumery, both for its fixative and scent properties, and in oriental 
medicines. It was used in China and India as far back as 3,500 BC, and by the 7 th 
Century AD it was traded with the Arabs (Genders, 1972). Relatively little is used in 
perfumery nowadays, due to its increasing scarcity and high cost, and commensurate 
replacement by much cheaper synthetic alternatives. Most musk is used in traditional 
Chinese, Hindu {ayurvedic) and Moslem (imam) medicines for its alleged cardiac, 
circulatory, respiratory and sexual stimulant properties, as well as a sedative for 
nervous disorders (Pereira, 1857; Mukerji, 1953; Anon., 1979). 

Musk is among the most valuable animal products in the world, worth 3-4 times its 
weight in gold. In the 1970s, its international market value was up to US $ 45,000 per 
kg. At that time, Japan was the largest importer of musk, accounting for some 85% 
(275 kg) of the international trade (Green, 1986). In the early 1980s, total annual 
musk production in China was 2,000-2,500 kg, of which 500 kg originated from M. 
berezovskii (Wang et al., 1993). In the Russian Altai, 50 kg was officially traded in 
1990-91, thought to represent about 10,000-20,000 musk deer, M. moschiferus 
(Prikhod'ko, 1987). 

Current levels of the international trade have not been documented, but there is no 
reason to expect them to have declined, given that musk deer continue to be hunted 
and populations continue to decrease throughout much of their geographical 

3.4 Conservation status 

International level 

According to the IUCN criteria for threatened species, M. moschiferus is listed as a 
vulnerable species in view of its declining populations. The other three species are 
considered to be at lower risk (near threatened); in other words, they almost qualify as 
vulnerable species. 

Commercial trade in musk (or any other derivatives of the musk deer) is restricted 
under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna 
and Flora (CITES). Populations of Moschus species from. Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, 
Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are listed under Appendix I of CITES, thereby 
prohibiting any import of animals or parts thereof for primarily commercial purposes. 
All other populations of Moschus are listed under Appendix, which means that musk 
from these populations may be traded subject to strict regulation 

National level 

The musk deer is severely threatened within some countries. Although it is protected 
under national legislation in many range states, effective protection is minimal due to 
inadequate resources, even within many of the protected areas in which the species 
occur. The population is arguably best protected in Bhutan, where poachers are 
deterred in the knowledge that they may legitimately be shot on sight. Details of 
national legislative provisions for musk deer are summarised in Annex 2. 


4.1 Habitat preference 

Musk deer inhabit montane forests and subalpine scrub throughout much of their 
distribution. Dense undergrowth, typically of rhododendron, bamboo and other 
shrubs, is a prerequisite, with a marked preference for steep slopes (Bannikov et al. , 
1980; Green, 1987a; Kattel, 1992) 

Use of habitat may vary with activity, time of day and season in response to the 
availability of cover, food, shelter and other variables. In Kedarnath, N. India, musk 
deer were found to be most active at night, feeding in more exposed habitats, such as 
alpine meadows, under the cover of darkness (Green, 1985, 1987a). In Sagarmatha, 
Nepal, most use of birch-rhododendron forest and dwarf rhododendron scrub is made 
in winter, probably because of the greater availability of food (arboreal lichens in 
particular) in these habitats during this season (Kattel, 1992). 

4.2 Food requirements 

Musk deer are concentrate feeders, selecting easily digestible, nutritious foods that are 
high in protein and energy (sugars) and low in fibre (Green, 1987b; Kattel, 1992). In 
Kedarnath, N. India, forbs and woody plants constitute the bulk of the diet in summer 
and winter, respectively (Green, 1987b). During winter, when food is in short supply, 
musk deer survive on poorer quality diets. Where available, musk deer may switch to 
feeding largely on arboreal lichens (Usnea spp.), which are low in protein but high in 
energy that is easily fermentable and readily absorbed during digestion (Kattel, 1992). 
Evergreen foliage, such as Rhododendron campanulatum (Green, 1 987b), and 
arboreal lichens may be the only readily available food plants during winter when the 
snow may be one metre deep. Musk deer are also able to jump into trees for feeding 
purposes (Kattel, 1992; H. D. Xu, pers. Comm., 1997). As winter progresses and 

snow becomes deeper, so foliage and arboreal lichens become accessible from 
increasingly higher levels within trees and shrubs. 

Feeding in winter is aided by the musk deer's adaptation to moving in snow. It's dew 
claws are enlarged, helping to spread its body weight over a larger surface area, 
thereby minimising sinking in soft snow and maximising its competitive advantage 
over similarly sized ungulates. The ratio of body weight to hoof area is estimated to 
be 83. 6g km" 2 (Kattel, 1992), which is lower than for any other ungulate. In practice, 
measurements show that the maximum depth to which musk deer sink in snow is 26 
cm, and on average it is only half this value (Green, 1985). 

4.3 Ranging behaviour 

Musk deer are essentially sedentary, with home ranges of 13-22 ha recorded for 
populations in North India, Nepal and the Tibetan Plateau (Green, 1985; Kattel, 1992; 
Harris and Cai, in press). Studies of these populations show no evidence of any 
seasonal movement to lower altitudes with the onset of winter. As already discussed, 
they are well-adapted to moving through deep, soft snow; moreover, they are well 
protected from the cold by their thick coat of hairs that are crenellated and constructed 
of air-filled cells to maximise insulation (Green, 1985). In some parts of Russia, 
however, musk deer may migrate up to 35km in winter as a result of food supplies and 
shelter becoming covered by snow (Bannikov et ah, 1980). 

Males tolerate females within their home ranges but not other males, from whom they 
defend their territories. However, home ranges of females may overlap each other. In 
Sagarmatha, Nepal, where population density is high (23 musk deer recorded within 
50ha), the home range of one male overlapped with parts of the home ranges of five 
females. Moreover, the home ranges of these five females partially overlapped with 
those of several of the other females (Kattel, 1992). Similar patterns were evident in 
Kedarnath, N. India, where the winter homes of a male and female overlapped 
considerably, but those of two adjacent males did not overlap with each other (Green, 
1985, 1987c). A much lower population density of 5-6 musk deer km" 2 in Kedarnath, 
probably reflecting reduced food availability and possibly past hunting practices, may 
account for the lower incidence of overlapping home ranges. 

4.4 Social behaviour 

Direct and indirect observations, using radiotelemetry, indicate that musk deer are 
solitary animals, spending most of their time alone. In Kedarnath, N. India, musk deer 
were only once observed together during 1 5 1 observations and a total observation 
period exceeding 63 hours spread over a three year study period (Green, 1985, 1987a). 
In Sagarmatha, Nepal, adult females were sometimes seen with young in late summer, 
and adult females and males were commonly seen together during the iut (Kattel, 
1992). Such differences between these two study populations may reflect differences 
in population density. 

Solitary behaviour is typical of small, forest ruminants which rely chiefly on olfaction 
for communication. Visual contact is impaired by the dense nature of the forest or 
scrub habitat. Moreover, vocalisation, as a means of long-range communication, is 
presumed to be incompatible with an anti-predator strategy that relies on remaining 

Chemical signals are strongly developed in the musk deer. Droppings, urine, and in 

the case of males, secretions from the musk, caudal and interdigital glands, are used as 
scent-marks (Green, 1987c). Nothing is known about the interdigital gland, except 
that it is found in the front feet of the male (Pocock. 1910), so it will not be 
considered further here. 


Musk deer, both sexes, use latrines for purposes of defaecation. Peak use of latrines is 
in December, coinciding with the estimated peak of the rut (Green, 1987c). In the 
Himalaya, the rut usually coincides with the driest time of year. In order to keep their 
pellets moist and smelly during the dry autumn season, musk deer often cover them 
with earth, old pellets, leaf litter and any other available debris (Green, 1987c). 

Latrines are distributed throughout the home range. There is circumstantial evidence, 
based on measurements of pellet weights, that the extent to which latrines are shared 
by individuals corresponds with the degree of overlap between animals' ranges. Thus, 
rather than serving as boundary markers, latrines are communication centres 
providing information on the identification, whereabouts and perhaps even 
reproductive condition of the occupant(s) of a particular range or set of overlapping 
home ranges (Green, 1987c). 

Urination and musk secretion 

The role of musk in the life of a musk deer is far from understood. The musk gland 
lies in the preputial region, opening via a duct just a few millimetres anterior to the 
urethral opening. A gland measures 4-6cm long, 3.5-4.5cm wide and 4cm in depth. 

There is preliminary evidence that musk is conveyed in the urine of males, based on 
observations in winter of snow often being stained pink or red from the urine of 
males, rather than amber as in the case of female musk deer and other ungulates. Also, 
snow stained with the urine of males is usually sweetly scented (Green, 1987c). Given 
the close proximity of the opening of the musk gland anterior to that of the urethra, it 
is likely that either the musk is squirted into the urine stream by contraction of the 
striated muscles of the musk gland, or the stream of urine is directed to pass over the 
musk-coated hairs covering the aperture of the gland. Whether musk is used to scent 
the body, as well as the urine, is not known. In the event of the former, urine may be 
used to disperse the scent over the body. 

Pasting with the caudal gland 

The caudal gland of the male occurs as a thickening at the base of the short (c. 2.5cm) 
tail. A viscous yellow secretion, having an offensive odour that is not at all musky, 
exudes from a pore on either side of the tail (Hodgson, 1841). The tail is naked, 
except for a terminal tuft, owing to the frequent act of rubbing its glandular base 
against objects. 

Typically, male musk deer rub the base of their tale against the stems of bushes or 
dried herbs and grasses. The only detailed study of such pasting behaviour has shown 
that male musk deer mark in this way throughout their home ranges, both in captivity 
and in the wild. However, 70% of paste marks were concentrated in a broad peripheral 
belt, inside of which were distributed most latrines (Sokolov and Prikhod'ko, 1979). 
This pattern of scent marking is open to various interpretations, but clearly the use of 
faeces to mark home ranges may be subject to more severe production constraints 
than that of caudal gland secretions. 

Functions of scent-marking 

The functions of scent-marking in the musk deer remain poorly understood. Territory 
marking may provide intruders with a means of identifying residents by their scent, 
which is matched during agonistic encounters with the memorized scent of marks 
encountered in the immediate vicinity. Thus, scent marks enable an intruder to assess 
the quality of a potential competitor, thereby avoiding an escalation in agonistic 
encounters. Similar processes of recognition by scent-matching may be involved in 
mate choice, enabling females to select mates that are successful in competing with 
others. It follows, therefore, that a high frequency of scent-marking would be 
advantageous to a male if it helped, through dominance over male intruders, to 
maintain exclusive access to one or more females. The seasonal use of latrines and, in 
males, the seasonal synthesis of musk in summer for use later in the year to scent the 
urine may confer similar benefits. The chemical signals may be important for 
determining access not only to females but also to other resources in short supply, 
given that such behaviour continues beyond the rut for much of the winter (Green, 

4.5 Reproduction 

Musk deer breed seasonally. The rut occurs between November and early January, 
and the young are born in May-June after a gestation of 178-198 days. There appears 
to be a trend of increasing length of gestation with increasing size of species: M. 
berezovskii, the smallest species, has the shortest gestation; M. chrysogaster, the 
largest species, has the longest; and M. moschiferus occupies an intermediate position 
with respect to both its size and gestation period (Green, 1989). 

Litter size varies between one and three. The incidence of twins is higher than single 
births in M. berezovskii and M. moschiferus; conversely, single births are predominant 
in M. chrysogaster (Green, 1989). Whether such differences are species-specific or 
governed by environmental conditions is uncertain. Young grow rapidly, becoming 
independent of their mothers by about six weeks. They attain most of their adult body 
weight by six months and sexual maturity by 1 8 months of age. Females are capable 
of breeding in their first year (Green, 1987a, 1989). In captivity, musk deer have been 
known to live up to 20 years (Zhang, 1983). 


Males secrete musk from an age of 12-18 months onwards. Peak production of musk, 
marked by the visible swelling of the musk gland and scrotum, occurs in May- July 
prior to the autumn rut. This condition lasts for several weeks during which yellow, 
milky musk drains via ducts into the neck of the musk gland. Here, over a period of 
30 days or more, it is mixed with slough from the inner wall of the gland and matures 
into a powerfully scented, granular, red-brown substance (Campbell, 1837; Zhang et 
al., 1979; Bi et ah, 1980). The synthesis of musk is negligible in castrated males, 
suggesting that it is regulated by androgens from the testes (Zhang et al., 1979). Most 
musk is produced from animals between three and eight years of age (Bista et ah, 
1979). Males in captivity produce little musk by the age of 14 years, but the ability to 
secrete the substance still persists at 20 years of age (Zhang, 1983). 

Traditionally, musk deer are killed to excise the musk gland or pod as it is known in 
the trade. However, musk can be extracted through the external orifice of the musk 
gland without killing the animal. The Chinese, and others, have been experimenting 

with breeding musk deer in captivity for the production of musk since 1958. In China 
about 18g (lOg dry weight) of musk is harvested annually from captive males (Anon.. 
1974, 1975). This is higher than the mean of 1 1.6g musk (N=7, range = 7-15g) 
obtained from animals captured (and released) in the wild in Sagarmatha, Nepal 
(Kattel, 1992). However, the available data are insufficient to predict the optimum 
time of year for extraction of musk from wild animals. 

5.1 Harvesting musk from captive animals 

Existing information on farming musk deer is inadequate for assessing its economic 
viability. Even with improvements in rearing and breeding musk deer in captivity, 
there remains the problem of raising males at high densities without resorting to 
practices that are counter to animal welfare. Furthermore, as musk deer are easily 
stressed, extraction of musk needs to be performed under anaesthesia unless animals 
are tame. In reviewing the Chinese experience , it appears that musk deer are difficult 
to farm intensively and usually captive stocks have to be replenished with animals 
from the wild (Green, 1989). 

During initial attempts by the Chinese to build up captive stocks with musk deer from 
the wild, the mortality rate was 60-70%, with many animals dying from gastroenteritis 
primarily as a result of poor husbandry (Bista et al., 1979). Newly captured fawns, 
which are preferred to adults because they are easier to tame, are particularly prone to 
such infection unless preventative measures are taken (Zheng, 1 980). The other 
commonly fatal disease, to which young are very susceptible, is pneumonia (Bista et 
al, 1979). 

The musk deer has: been a relatively difficult species to breed in captivity. Of 32 
recorded births in zoos worldwide between 1959 and 1980, only 17 (53%) survived 
(Green, 1985). In China, survival of young has improved from 50% to over 90% at 
Foziling Farm in Anhui (Anon., 1975), and at Ma Er Kang Farm in Sichuan it 
averaged 74.4% (n = 336) during the period 1959-73 (Anon., 1974). 

In Sichuan's state farms, advances in domesticating and breeding musk deer were 
sufficient for the capture of wild animals to be discontinued after 1965 (Bista et al, 
1979). Such progress is not widespread in China, as most captive stocks still need to 
be replenished with animals from the wild (Green and Taylor, 1986). 

The musk deer's solitary habits (Green, 1985) tend to preclude intensive husbandry. 
Males are probably territorial and cannot be raised together in confined spaces without 
risk of injury from fighting. The Chinese practice of isolating males in small cages is 
not only considered inhumane but cannot be conducive to their productivity. Such 
treatment may be responsible for the reputed inferior quality of musk from farmed 

5.2 Harvesting musk from wild animals 

The problems and costs of maintaining musk deer in captivity could be avoided by 
harvesting musk from free-ranging animals on the basis of either capturing live 
animals, then releasing them after extracting the musk (Green, 1978, 1986), or culling 
them as was practised in the Soviet Union (Bannikov et al, 1980). Rural development 
schemes to harvest musk from wild or ranched animals would provide local 
communities with the motivation to protect not only the musk deer but also its habitat 
(Green, 1986; Green and Taylor, 1986). 

A major constraint to harvesting musk from live animals in the wild is developing a 
suitable method of capture. Green (1985) tried various techniques (traps and nets) but 
they all proved to be unsuccessful. More recently, Kattel (1992) developed a 
technique of driving previously located animals into nets (6m long and 2m high) 
using a team of 10-12 persons. This proved to be very successful, with a 56% success 
rate (25 captures out of 45 attempts). Once captured, animals were immobilised for 
purposes of attaching radiocollars and extracting musk. 

Another constraint is the widespread and centuries-old practice of adulteration (Green, 
1989). Some simple method of assaying the purity of musk needs to be developed. In 
Japan, the leading importer of musk measures the muscone content by gas-liquid 
chromatography, but a less sophisticated technique is needed for ready application in 
the field. 

In view of the highly lucrative nature of the musk trade, commercial operations to 
harvest musk from captive or wild animals must be accompanied by the proper 
protection of the musk deer in conservation areas (Green, 1986). At present, wild 
populations of musk deer are threatened by hunting. The extent to which this is 
occurring under the cover of farming enterprises in China is not known, but farming 
provides an infrastructure whereby musk obtained from wild animals can be traded as 
farmed musk with reduced risk of apprehension. 


6.1 Threatened but not yet extinct 

The musk deer is under tremendous threat from hunting and, increasingly, habitat 
destruction. Given the long history of the musk trade and the very high demand for 
musk, it is perhaps surprising that populations have not been extirpated from many 
more parts of their distribution. This can be attributed to various aspects of the 
animal's behaviour. 

The musk deer is a very elusive animal, being mostly solitary and capable of hiding in 
dense scrub amidst inhospitable terrain. The high level of nocturnal feeding activity in 
more exposed parts of the home range, as recorded in some populations, is likely to be 
an adaptive response to hunting, and to disturbance by local people and their 
livestock. All of these behavioural characteristics make hunting extremely labour 
intensive, as indicated by the intensity of trapping (100-600 snares km" 2 ) in some 
remote Himalayan valleys (Green, 1978). It is largely the market price of musk and 
the ready availability of musk from elsewhere which determines whether or not it is 
worth hunting populations to extinction. 

Another important factor which has undoubtedly contributed to the survival of the 
musk deer, despite intense hunting, is its high reproductive rate (Green, 1989). Young 
mature quickly and, although not yet confirmed in wild populations, they are capable 
of breeding within their first year. Moreover, the incidence of twins and even triplets 
is quite high in M. berezovskii and M. moschiferus. Whether or not attainment of 
sexual maturity and litter size are influenced by hunting pressures remains unstudied. 

Conservation measures through the establishment of protected areas are beginning to 
prove effective, albeit only in a very few cases because of largely inadequate 
resources to manage them effectively. A good example is Nepal's Annapurna 
Conservation Area, where wildlife populations including musk deer have recovered 


significantly since the launch of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project in 1987 (C. 
Gurung, pers comm., 1997). However, local culture and traditions have played a much 
stronger role in protecting some populations of musk deer. For example, musk deer 
may be strictly protected in the vicinity of certain Buddhist temples (Harris, 1991; 
Kattel, 1992). 

6.2 Future prospects 

The musk deer is threatened throughout its distribution but, for reasons discussed in 
the previous section, it is not yet seriously at risk of becoming extinct. Unlike the 
tiger, therefore, which participants of the symposium consider likely to become 
extinct unless strictly protected, there is still a little time in which to develop and 
implement conservation strategies that include the sustainable production of musk. 

While the development of synthetic substitutes for natural musk is necessary to meet 
the tremendous demand for musk in perfumery and traditional medicines, it is 
symptomatic of the high price and difficulty of obtaining natural musk that has 
resulted from the widespread over-exploitation of the musk deer. To attempt to 
completely replace natural musk with synthetics may be misguided because, arguably, 
this devalues the musk deer and does not address the root of the problem - a failure by 
civil societies to adopt sustainable lifestyles. Unlike tiger bone, for which many other 
animal bones have proved to be effective substitutes, musk is much more extensively 
used in traditional Chinese medicine, and its replacement by substitutes (synthetics) is 
not generally accepted. Whereas, the continued use of natural musk in perfumery is a 
luxury, particularly in the wake of the development of synthetic musks, its use in 
traditional medicines can be more readily justified provided such musk production is 
sustainable and humane. 

Clearly, there is a challenge ahead to reverse the present over-exploitation of musk 
deer and an important opportunity to establish musk deer as flagship species which, 
managed sustainable for their highly valued musk, can help to ensure the protection of 
fragile mountain environments and the welfare of mountain peoples. 

The effective protection of musk deer within protected areas is of paramount 
importance. This is unlikely to be achieved without the participation of local 
communities in management processes, particularly since government resources for 
protected areas in the musk deer's range states are usually grossly inadequate. 

In order to engage the cooperation of local communities, clear social and economic 
benefits must derive from maintaining protected areas. In the case of musk deer, 
ecotourism offers a potential market which might help to promote the animal's 

Outside strictly protected areas, there is the opportunity to harvest musk from wild or 
possibly ranched populations. This would be particularly beneficial for local people 
living at subsistence level in remote mountainous regions, where alternative sources 
of livelihood are meagre (Green, 1985, 1989). While there are major technical 
problems to overcome, such as efficient capture and release of free-ranging animals, 
and checking the purity of musk, the major challenge will be to ensure that legitimate 
harvesting of musk does not provide cover for animals to be poached from within 
protected areas. However, with the full involvement of local communities in musk 
harvesting enterprises and benefits accruing directly to them, their support in policing 
protected areas from poachers will have been won. 


Thus, the biggest challenge is not so much developing substitutes for musk and 
banning its trade, which ultimately may do little for protecting musk deer in the wild 
and providing economic benefits to rural communities, but finding technical, social 
and political solutions to sustainably harvesting musk from wild animals in areas 
buffering protected areas. This symposium is timely, providing the opportunity for the 
conservation and traditional Chinese medicines communities to begin working 
together to conserve the musk deer and its fragile mountain environment, while 
providing for the wealth and health of rural communities through the sustainable 
production of musk. 


The authors are very grateful to Jonathan Barzdo for his comments on an earlier version of this paper. 



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National distribution of Moschus spp. and occurrence within protected areas 
{Source: IUCN/SSC Deer Action Plan, in press) 

Afghanistan: M. chrysogaster is present in a few parts of Nuristan between 1500m and 3000m where 
it is considered to be rare (Habibi, 1977). 

Protected areas: None 

Bhutan: M.fuscus, considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M. chrysogaster, occurs 
throughout much of northern Bhutan, from about 2,600m to the treeline at 4,200m (Green, 1985). It is 
considered to be rare (Yonzon, 1992) but this may reflect the paucity of survey data. 

Protected areas: Black Mountains National Park, Jigme Dorji National Park (IUCN, 1993) 

China: The population of Moschus in China was estimated to be 600,000 (Sheng, 1987) but the basis 
of this figure is unclear. 

M. berezovskii is the most widely distributed and abundant species of musk deer in China. It occurs in 
southern Shaanxi, southern Anhui, Jianxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guinzhou, 
Sichuan, south-eastern Xizang, southern Gansu, south-east Qinghai and southern Ningxia provinces 
(Wang et al., 1993). Five subspecies are recognised by Wang et al. (1993), of which four have 
contiguous distributions. M. b. anhuiensis, previously regarded as a subspecies of M. moschiferus 
(Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990), is isolated from the other races and confined to the Dabie Mountains of 
western Anhui (Wang etai, 1993). 

M. chrysogaster chrysogaster is found in south-eastern Qinghai and southern Tibet. Its distribution 
abuts that of M. c. sifanicus, treated as an independent species M. sifanicus by Cai and Feng (1981), 
which inhabits the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and Meridonial Mountains. In the Pingwu, 
Markam, Anxian, Beichuan, Litang, Kangding and Muli counties of western Sichuan the distributions 
of M. c. sifanicus and M. b. berezovskii overlap, but the former ranges above 3,000m and the latter 
from 1,000m to 2,500m (Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990). Opinion is unanimous that musk deer populations in 
Qinghai have declined during the past decade, including Baizha Forest, Nangqian County where 
densities of 2-3 animals per were recorded by Harris (1991). According to the Qinghai 
Provincial Government (1988, cited in Harris, 1991), 66,000 musk deer were illegally harvested in 

M.fuscus, considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M. chrysogaster, occurs in south- 
eastern Xizang and northern Yunnan (Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990). 

M. moschiferus moschiferus is confined to the northern parts of Heilongjiang Province and Inner 
Mongolia. Its distribution is contiguous with that of M. m. parvipes which occurs in Heilongjiang and 
Jilin provinces (Ohtaishi and Gao, 1990). 

Protected areas: Medog, Qomolangma, Tangjiahe, Wanglang and Wolong nature reserves (IUCN, 
1993). Changbal Mountain, Helan Mountain, Huaping, Jingpo Lake, Lishan Mountain, Liupen 
Mountain, Mount Fanjing, Poyang Lake, Shennonglia, Wuling Mountain, Ziyunwanleng Mountain 
nature reserves (WCMC records). 

India: M. chrysogaster occurs in parts of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, northern Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim 
and Arunachal Pradesh. Its altitudinal range extends from about 2,400m to above the treeline, which 
varies from about 3,200m in the Western Himalaya to 4,200m in the Eastern Himalaya. The species is 
likely to be most numerous in the eastern Himalaya where its habitat has been least disturbed. Further 
details of its status are given by Green (1985). Fewer than 1 animal per recorded in Kashmir, 
and 5-6 per in Kedarnath Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh (Green, 1985, 1987). 

M. fuscus, considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M. chrysogaster, occurs in Assam and 

Protected areas: Recorded in over 20 Himalayan national parks and sanctuaries (IUCN, 1993). 


Korea: M. moschiferns parvipes is considered to be in danger of becoming extinct (Won, 1988). It 
occurs in the wooded, mountainous parts of the Korean peninsular, but information on its present 
distribution is lacking. 

Protected areas: No information 

Mongolia: M. moschiferus is found in the taiga of Hentei and Hovsgol, parts of Hangai and possibly in 
the Han Hohii massif in the north-west. It is uncommon due to hunting for musk (Mallon, 1985). 

Protected areas: Likely to occur in Khorgo Reserve (Hangai); Ar-Toul and Gorkhi-Terelj national 
parks, and Bogdkhan Uul and Khan Khentii Uul reserves (Hentei); and Khovsgul Nuuer National Park 

Myanmar: M.fuscus, considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M. chrysogaster, occurs 
only in Kachin State of northern Myanmar. In the hills around Putao it is generally found above 

Protected areas: None 

Nepal: M. chrysogaster is widely but discontinuously distributed throughout the Himalaya from about 
3,000m to 4,400m (Green, 1985). The population is thought to be increasing within protected areas but 
declining outside them. Sagarmatha National Park has an estimated 600-800 animals, with up to 45 per 
sq. km. Elsewhere, there are an estimated 500 animals in Langtang National Park, 20 in Rara National 
Park and >1000 in Shey-Phoksundo National Park (B. Kattel, pers. comm., 1990). 

M.fuscus, considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of M. chrysogaster, occurs in the Everest 

Protected areas: As above. Also present in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Khaptad National Park and 
Makalu-Barun National Park/Conservation Area (IUCN, 1993). 

Pakistan: M. chrysogaster is widespread from 3000m to 4000m in the Northern Areas, but has 
become rare in Chitra! and the Indus Kohistan, North- West Frontier Province. It has never been as 
plentiful in the north-western Himalaya as further east where it inhabits lower altitudes due to the 
higher rainfall (Roberts, 1977). 

Protected areas: Astore, Baltistan, Kargah, Manshi, Nar/Ghoro Nallah, Satpara wildlife sanctuaries 
(IUCN, 1993) 

former USSR: Of the three subspecies of M. moschiferus: M. m. moschiferus is widely distributed 
throughout eastern Siberia, from the Altai Mountains in the west to the Kolymskiy Mountains in the 
east; M. m. parvipes occurs in the Ussurisk region of eastern Russia (Whitehead, 1994); and M. m. 
sachalinensis is restricted to four populations in the southern half of Sakhalin Island (V.E. 
Prisjazhnyuk, pers. comm., 1994). The species does not occur above 1,600m in the former USSR. 
Bannikov et al. (1980) estimated the total population in the former USSR to be approximately 100,000, 
based on a mean density of 0.6 animals per (densities rise to 20 animals per in optimal 
habitats). Population is declining, following the disintegration of the former USSR, and currently 
estimated to total 56,000-60,000, with 29,000-30,000 in the Altai and Sajany, 18,000-19,000 around 
Lake Baikal, 5,000-6,000 in Siberia, 4,000-5.000 in the Far East and 300-350 on Sakhalin Island (V.I. 
Prikhod'ko, pers. comm., 1994). In Khabarovsk Krai (Far East), there were an estimated 18,000 musk 
deer in 1 994 according to Khabarovsk Game Department. 

Protected areas: Occurs in a total of 1 national park, 21 zapovedniks and 5 other protected areas (V.I. 
Prikhod'ko, pers. comm., 1994). In Russia, present in Komsomolskiy, Sikhote-AIinskiy, Ussyriryskiy 
and Zeyskiy zapovedniks (Golovanov, 1985; G. Gonzalez, 1994) and Altaiskiy, Baikal'skiy, 
Barguzinskiy and Bol'shekhekhtsizskiy zapovedniks (WCMC records). 

Vietnam: M. berezovskii occurs in Lang Son and Cao Bang provinces of north-eastern Vietnam. There 
are an estimated 200-300 in Cao Bang Province but the population is decreasing (H.H. Dang, T. van 
Dao and M.K. Hoang, pers. comm. 1990). 

Protected areas: Trung Khanh Nature Reserve (H.H. Dang, T. van Dao and M.K. Hoang, pers. comm. 



Summary of national legal provisions for musk deer 
(Source: RJCN/SSC Deer Action Plan, in press) 

Afghanistan: No legal protection or other conservation action. 

Bhutan: Totally protected by Royal Decree. 

China: Protected as a Category II key species under the federal Wildlife Protection Law, 1988. 
Category II species may be taken only under permit granted by the provincial authority. Qinghai 
Provincial Government has promulgated a special emergency notice, under its Wildlife Resources 
Protection and Management Regulations, 1988, to draw attention to the plight of the musk deer and to 
strengthen its protection. However, there is no evidence to suggest that legal protection has been 
effective (Harris, 1991). 

Efforts to establish an effective network of nature reserves to conserve the Giant Panda have indirectly 
benefitted M. berezovskii which occurs in similar habitat. 

India: Totally protected under the federal Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. 

Korea: Protected since 1968 when it was designated as Natural Monument No. 216. A Musk Deer 
Preservation Council was established in 1978 under the auspices of the Korean Wildlife Preservation 
Association. No recent information. 

Mongolia: Totally protected as an endangered species under new legislation introduced on 5 June 

Myanmar: Totally protected under the Nature and Wildlife Law, 1994. 

Nepal: Totally protected under the National Parks & Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. 

Pakistan: No legal protection or other conservation action at national level. 

former USSR: In the Russian Federation, musk deer are hunted under licence but regulations vary 
between krais. For example, in Khabarovsk Krai the legal harvest quota in 1994 was 2,000, whereas in 
Krasnojarski Krai hunting has been prohibited since 1994 (G. Schurholz, pers. comm.). In Sikhote- 
Alinskiy Zapovednik the legal annual harvest is 70 musk deer (Gonzalez, 1994). It is planned to 
establish a zapovednik by 2000 for the protection of M. m. sachalinensis on Sakhalin Island (V.E. 
Prisjazhnyuk, pers. comm., 1994). 

Vietnam: Protected under national legislation since 1963.